Finding extra space at home for your every need can be a challenge, especially if you have children. The essentials aside – bedrooms, bathroom, living room, kitchen – where can you find the room to dedicate to something you need, such as a home office, children's playroom or workout area?
Well, converting your attic might be the answer to your prayers. Regardless of whether you live in a town house or rustic cottage, architects are experts at helping you find the solution to such residential conundrums. Not only do converted attics offer that essential extra square footage but they always add value to your property. The money you invest in such a project – which can be considerable, depending on the scale of your ambition – will almost certainly be recouped when you sell your property.
Sounds like a win/win? Then read on!
The first step is to decide what you're going to use this new found space for. Despite often being awkwardly shaped, attics can be great for so many types of room: a new kid's bedroom, extra bathroom or a study space.
An attic space can accommodate almost any type of room so choose carefully what you would like to have hidden away at the top of the house. An unique room, such as a home gym, can be great but so can an additional space like a second living room or extra washroom, which can be ideal for guests. Just remember that attics are at the top of the house and you don't want to have to climb extra stairs just to visit the WC.
It will be a clean slate of a space so properly assess your needs (both present and future), weigh up what makes sense with your available dimensions and budget and then let your imagination run free. It can be anything you want it to be!
Once you've chosen how to use your attic you should then decide upon the kind of flooring you'll need. As with any room, you need to find a floor material that suits the function of the room: carpet might be nice for an extra bedroom but you might opt for hard-wearing, easy-to-clean laminate for a home workout space, for example.
Since attics are outside the usual “living space” of a home, finding the right flooring solution requires special consideration. Choosing an inappropriate option could weaken the building's structure, squash the insulation or worse, cause you to find yourself with one foot planted firmly through ceiling below!
Remember that attic spaces are a part of the raw underbelly of a structure that holds a house together and protects it from the elements so, because of this, installing flooring in an attic always involves some level of disturbance.
Lastly, do not overlook the fact that your home’s energy efficiency almost always suffers when the attic is converted. Since an average attic needs 10 inches or so of insulation, the insulation is always thicker than the ceiling joists or trusses. Consequently, adding flooring can cause the insulation to compress, thus squeezing out the insulating ability of the fibreglass.
In attic spaces, finishing the walls is especially important. In an unfinished attic, the goal of insulation is to keep the rooms below cool in summer and warm in winter. That means insulating the attic floor only – not the walls – and having vents in the roof. However, with a finished attic, insulation must help keep the attic areas comfortable.
If only the living space will be insulated, insulation should be wrapped around the room’s walls and ceiling and continue along the floor. Should you want to keep the area behind the side walls from freezing in winter, apply insulation from the roofline all the way down to the floor.
Once the insulation has been taken care of you can now focus on the design. Remember that light, neutral colours will help a smaller space feel bigger than it actually is. As you're working from scratch with your new space, you might like to try something a little more bold than you might in a more used space, such as the living room. Daring colours, cool wallpaper designs, a feature wall or perhaps a new wall covering, such as wood panelling (pictured), all are great options available to you.
Windows are obviously an essential part of designing your attic conversion, for legal, aesthetic and functional reasons.
First, let's deal with practicality of attic windows. They are essential from a safety point of view as it would be irresponsible and highly dangerous to, for example, position a child's bedroom in the roof space with no fire escape. Another key point is that windows allow for free air circulation and ventilation. Most experts contend that a well-ventilated attic helps keep a house more comfortable in summer and guards against moist, heated air building up in winter.
Daylight is also fundamental to any room since we all respond positively to it and is therefore a personal investment to get as much natural light into your attic as possible. A lack of light would cause a room to be dark and gloomy, which are known causes of depression and stress related illnesses. Natural light brings an attic to life, filling it with light and warmth.
You don't want to go through all the hard work of converting the space to only having it sitting in the dark upon completion!
Windows play a key role in the lighting of an attic and bigger windows, of course, admit more daylight. However, it is worth considering that more, smaller windows can achieve a better overall effect. Attics often have sloped roofs, which means that curtains don't work and blinds are therefore the best option for covering a window. Give some thought to what kind of blind best suits your needs and the requirements of the room. A blackout blind might be best for a young child's bedroom to aid sleep, whereas a roller blind could be a good choice for a space that needs additional warmth.
All the usual home lighting options obviously apply to attics but the sometimes unusual shape and architecture of the space lends itself well to slightly less common options. Rack lighting can look great in an attic and solve some of the installation problems other lighting options present. Recessed LED fixtures should also also be considered as they tuck completely out of the way, don't generate unwanted heat and can have insulation installed snugly, and safely, around them.
So you've finished designing your attic space. It's insulated, the flooring is laid and the walls have been plastered and finished. The windows and lighting look great and keep the space bright and fresh so it's now time for the final touches: furniture and accessories.
Furniture can define any room so keep this in mind when furnishing your new attic space. Treat your new space with the same care and consideration you afford the more common areas of the house. Your new attic isn't the
spare room, soon to be filled with boxes of clothes and boardgames. Abstain from unnecessary items and stay true to the original vision you had for the space.